The First Album That Anthologized Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' Work, "Greatest Hits" (1993) Will Always Remain An Excellent Introduction To Their Music On The Whole. One Of The "New" Tracks ("Mary Jane's Last Dance") Was To Became A True Staple In Its Own Right.
Tom Petty’s very first retrospective, “Greatest Hits” (1993) would become one of his best-selling albums ever. It included all the seminal tracks he recorded both with the Heartbreakers and as a solo artist. These include “American Girl” and “Breakdown” from the debut, the four best tracks from the breakthrough album “Damn The Torpedoes” (Refugee”, “Here Comes My Girl”, “Even The Losers” and the ultra-successful “Don’t Do Me Like That” – is it me, or it has been slightly remixed?) and the sole hit from “Southern Accents”, “Don’t Come Around Here No More”. It also has two of his best ‘80s tracks in the shape of “The Waiting” and the synth-soaked “You Got Lucky”.
Finally, “Learning To Fly” and “Into The Great Wide Open” come from “Into The Great Wide Open” (1991) and the three best cuts from Petty’s only solo album up to that point (“Full Moon Fever”, 1989) are featured (“I Won’t Back Down”, “Running Down A Dream” and the dizzying “Free Falling”). Continue reading →
"Echo" (1999) Was The First Album That Tom Petty Issued With The Heartbreakers In 8 Years. On The Album, Petty Coped With The Passing Of Some Dear Friends And His Very Own Divorce.
As you know, I am not the biggest fan of “Wildflowers“, Tom Petty’s second solo album. I have always felt that he could only take the pastoral element so far, and that the rockers were jaded. That album did, however, set the scene for one of his finest works with the Heartbreakers, 1999’s “Echo”, an album that was to sound like the truest solo offering of his whole career – yes, even more than “Full Moon Fever“, “Wildflowers” and the forthcoming “Highway Companion”. If anything, that “solo” feel was the indirect result of the passing of some of his friends, and the direct consequence of his own divorce.
I feel I must mention that “Echo” was not the first album that Petty released with the Heartbreakers after “Wildflowers“. He did actually bring the boys around for a soundtrack album that certainly renewed their energies. That was the “She’s The One” OST, and while I did never consider it a canonical album (and I actually actively dislike it) I’m the first to admit it did energize the band. Because cuts like “Won’t Last Long” and “About To Give Out” on “Echo” could never have sounded as fresh as they did without that soundtrack, nor songs like “Accused Of Love” and “This One’s For Me” sound so joyous and frolicsome.
Still, “Echo” will always be remembered for the catharsis of songs like “Room At The Top” (where the nature and the inexorable downfall of forced forgetfulness are explored), and the two final tracks, “Rhino Skin” and “One More Day, One More Night”. “Rhino Skin” is a cry of disgustingness at the cruelty of life, and “One More Day, One More Night” is a song of resignation in which I like to read between the lines and find a certain determination to carry on. It’s placement on the album is certainly impeccable, especially when we pitch it against the opening “Room At The Top”. That is something about the album: how well structured it is. Songs which are not that pivotal like “Swinging” and Mike Campbell’s “I Don’t Wanna Fight” (in which he also happens to take the lead) don’t get in the way at all. And the title track (one of the most Dylanesque compositions that Petty ever penned) is placed right in the middle. The song (which is absolutely gorgeous) is too long to be either at the beginning or at the end. It could only work there, especially as the track that follows it is “Won’t Last Long”, a song which is pure make-believe, and which is what the album needs after the expurgation of its title track.
The cuts that deal with Petty’s separation more forthrightly are situated mostly at the beginning, and they are not really my favorite songs on the album. They include “Free Girl Now” and “Lonesome Sundown”, and while I have never thought too much of either I have to admit that “Free Girl Now” has Petty sounding as pissed as he ever did. What is interesting is how well he controls and channels that anger (something he could not do on the next album, “The Last DJ”). That ability to take negativity and turn it into something that could instill positive action on the listener is what wins me over in the end. Despite the circumstances that surrounded it, “Echo” managed to sound victorious instead of vanquished. And along with “Into The Great Wide Open” and “Full Moon Fever“, this is the one album of Petty I reach out for the most often.
Tom Petty's Second Solo Album, "Wildflowers" (1994) Was Produced By Rick Rubin, With Michael Kamen Adding Many Orchestrations.
Tom Petty’s second solo album is clearly a more modest effort than his previous solo offering (“Full Moon Fever“, issued in 1989). This time around there are no superstars backing Mr. Integrity (fellow Traveling Wilburys Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne and George Harrison had contributed substantially to the making of “Full Moon Fever”), and “Wildflowers” was to end up sandwiched between two of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers better releases: “Into The Great Wide Open” (1991) and the tragedy-inspired “Echo” (1999). If anything, “Wildflowers” seems to me a canvass upon which “Echo” was to be painted. In some cases, a couple of brushes have already been either insinuated or put into place in “Wildflowers” – the songs “Crawling Back To You” and “Don’t Fade On Me” constitute a true link in the chain of despondency and abatement that would come to define the most endemic material to “Echo” (“Rhino Skin”, “One More Day, One More Night”).
By my reckoning, there are only a handful of tracks here that are real keepers. These include “Time To Move On” and “A Better Place”, both reasonably upbeat (or at the very least positive) compositions, and the relatively loud “Honey Bee”, a number in which Tom and Mike Campbell have one of their best guitar duels on record with the instrument of each having a separate speaker all to itself.
The three-chord rocker “You Wreck Me” was a successful single, and so was the mellow, autobiographical “It’s Good To Be King” . I think they are good, but not that good. I wouldn’t call “You Wreck Me” rote, but I would call it perfunctory. And when I listen to “It’s Good To Be King” I get the feeling Petty is holding something back – something he would unleash to good effect on “Echo”, and to disastrous consequences on “The Last DJ”. In the end, Michael Kamen’s orchestral arrangement is what makes this rumination on fame remotely memorable.
The folksy contingent of the album is best-represented by the title track, which is a lovely air and one of Petty’s most realized incursions in the genre. Conversely, cuts like “To Find A Friend” are easy to listen to, but also easy to be forgotten. Continue reading →
"Into The Great Wide Open" Was The Final Record Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers Cut For MCA. Jeff Lynne Produced It.
Some albums can have a very limited tonal palette and still manage to convey emotions with such vividness and diversity that you can but be amazed at the level of craftsmanship displayed by their composers. “Into The Great Wide Open” is an album that certainly brings that to mind. Produced by Jeff Lynne, it was Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers eight album overall, and the last they would release for MCA Records.
The year was 1991, and the partnership with Lynne made a lot of sense – not only did Tom and Jeff get along like a house on fire, Lynne had helmed the praiseworthy “Full Moon Fever” just three years before.
In terms of sound, “Into The Great Wide Open” recalls not only Petty’s first solo album but also The Traveling Wilburys’ entire oeuvre with its mix of contemporary motifs and a shiny roots rock feel. That was an inevitable point of comparison, and one of the main criticisms leveled at the album – that it was nothing but “Full Moon Fever 2”,and that the production undermined the message.
The first part of that argument did hold its own, and Petty knew as much (this was the last album Lynne produced for him). But I find the second part patently untrue. Petty did never touch upon his endemic themes with such accuracy, vitality and grace.
The first single was to top the Mainstream Rock Charts for six weeks. Named “Learning To Fly”, it has become one of Petty’s trademark songs, and the one song of his that everybody knows down where I live (Uruguay). That is a good thing – the song is one of the catchiest within his repertoire. And thematically, it has all the basic ingredients that Petty is known to combine at his most emblematic- a lyric where hopelessness is turned in its head by the mere resolution of the protagonist to hold onto something that he actually knows is not there. But it will be there one day. Until that day comes, it is a matter of going up and down.
And several songs showcase a development in Petty’s typical cast of characters that one can help but feel, “At last, it all comes full circle”. I am speaking about “King’s Highway”, where the promise of a better day becomes engraved in time by the courage of the narrator to believe the force of his will. And the song “Two Gunslingers” has two gunfighters (IE, two slaves to a brutal form of entertainment) breaking out of their given roles, with one of them pronouncing “I’m takin’ control of my life” so many times that what ends up mattering is the life that is begotten, and not the onslaught that we (as the listeners) know had preceded that moment. Continue reading →
“Pack Up The Plantation” Was The First Live Album Ever By Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. It Came Out In 1986.
“Southern Accents” proved so contentious that less than one year after its release Petty and The Heartbreakers issued their first live album, as if they were to exorcise the previous offering from their systems and prove to fans and critics alike that they could still rock like they meant it.
The album was to be named “Pack Up The Plantation”, and many different configurations exist. To begin with, we have the original LP/Cassette release that was accompanied by a live VHS in which some songs were added, all of them good (specially “Don’t Do Me Like That” from “Damn The Torpedoes” and “Don’t Come Around Here No More” from the previous record). The original album (which was a double LP) was repackaged as a single CD that had a different running order and which dropped two tracks: “You Got Lucky” (a great loss) and “I Need To Know”.
Still, the album in any incarnation is a lot of fun. The “Southern Accents” contingent feels more endemic to the band thanks to the rawness that any live setting provides, and “Rebels” in particular is a showstopper.
As it is the case with live albums, some songs have different arrangements – the most noticeable is “The Waiting”, rendered solitarily by Tom until the band thunders in during the middle eight. Elsewhere, “Breakdown” is stretched quite a bit, and the part where Petty starts an adlib that degenerates into an almost babble is amusing, even when it doesn’t precisely make the song any better. Continue reading →
Click here to read the introduction to this review.
“Southern Accents” was an album that generated a considerable amount of friction within Tom Petty’s camp, to the point of physical violence – Petty broke his hand after punching the wall during the recording of the opening track, “Rebels”. The song and the track that follows (“It Ain’t Nothin’ To Me”) toy with those stereotypes that I mentioned in part 1 of the review, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some Southerners would shoot up copies of the record while “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” plays in the background.
Leaving the subject matter aside (basically “people down South are good-for-nothing louts, they can only raise hell”), the songs are good. “Rebels” is an infectious rocker (even if the production is a bit distracting), and “It Ain’t Nothin’ To Me” is a funky cut showcasing that Petty was in a willfully experimental mood. Well, he had someone that was more seasoned in that to assist him – the song was cowritten with Dave Stewart (better known from his work with Eurythmics), as was the other major curve ball on the disc: the hit “Don’t Come Around Here No More”. It is important to mention that the song had actually been offered for “Long After Dark”. That also gives you a clear indication that the conceptual thread on “Southern Accents” sometimes disappears altogether, in no small part thanks to the disagreements that recording a “concept” caused among Petty and his unit. They were known as rockers, after all. “Southern Accents” was a more polished and (above all) more diverse album. It was also an expensive record, and they labored at it for longer than any of them felt comfortable with at the end. Nowhere is that clearer than on the video for “Don’t Come Around Here No More”. A far, far cry from flagship tunes like “American Girl” and “Refugee”. They only rock at the end, the rest is all the things you can imagine but a rock & roll tune:
The first side finalizes with the title track. I first listened to Johnny Cash’s take on the “Unchained” disc (American II), and it absolutely had me first time around. It is the one “concept” song I deem as respectful and moving, and the lyrics are something which most people can sympathize with it, no matter where they are. But being a Southerner myself I found it so compelling that I bought this album after having listened to Cash’s version just once. As far as Petty and the Heartbreakers’s version goes, I consider it Benmont Tench’s most realized moment with the band. Continue reading →
Issued In 1985, The Album Met With Lukewarm Reviews And Caused Notable Frictions Within The Band. It Was A Top 10 Hit Nonetheless.
Released in 1985, “Southern Accents” is regarded as one of the few failures in Tom Petty’s checkered career. The consensus was that he bit more than he could chew, as he tried to write a conceptual album about the South just to end up painting a sort of contemptible caricature. Now, I am also a Southerner – but from another part of the world. As you know, I live in a country named Uruguay, tucked at the bottom geographical end of South America. That puts me in an interesting position since I can easily understand how certain traditions and conventions are easy to be mocked by people from other parts of the continent, and even the whole world.
I would feel a little miffed if some local musician recorded a conceptual album about people who drink mate and eat dulce de leche indiscriminately while talking about past achievements as far as soccer is concerned. For your information, in that sentence I mentioned our natural infusion (“mate”), one of the endemic dairy products of the country (“dulce de leche”) and I referred to one of the pet themes of conversation among old and young people alike: preterit soccer successes (with Uruguay’s defeat of Brazil in 1950 at Maracaná preeminently among them).
I would be miffed if that happened because setting that down as an album would only perpetuate an image of the country that most people (notably the younger generations) try to elude.
Or do they? As much as some mock drinking mate, when we are traveling abroad and we see someone with a thermos flask (something essential for drinking mate) underneath his arm then we rush to embrace him, proclaiming eternal friendship and a bond that will last through generations to come. And as much as some claimed to hate the talk about soccer, they were the first to post images and slogans on their Facebook profiles about Peñarol (one of the two giants of Uruguayan soccer along with Nacional) when FIFA named it the best team of the 20th Century. Continue reading →
"Damn The Torpedoes" Was Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers First Platinum Album. It Was Issued In 1979.
“Damn The Torpedoes” was Petty’s third album, and the one that brought true recognition to him and the Heartbreakers (his classic backing band). It came out in 1979, and it signaled the first run-in that Tom had with the industry. Basically, Petty’s record company at the time (Shelter) was sold to MCA, a move Petty disapproved of. He tried to detach himself by all means, and he was to eventually end up bankrupt as a result. Hence the title of the record – Admiral David Farragut’s famous order at the Battle of Mobile Bay: “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”.
Getting down to the music, now, the disc is invariably good. It caught Tom and the boys at the peak of their explicit days as rockers, whereas the album closer “Louisiana Rain” evidenced a desire to innovate and move out of the constraints of the genre, even if only a little.
The singles included “Refugee” (a song that hit #15) and the top 10 hit “Don’t Do Me Like That”. “Here Comes My Girl” (which featured a spoken delivery by Tom) and “Even The Losers” were also to go down as Tom Petty classics. The latter in particular will always be an excellent example of Petty’s prototypical characters – people who are out of fortune but not out of luck, as I commented on the general introduction I wrote yesterday. Continue reading →
A rocker at heart. That is the way Tom Petty would go down in history. Sure, there were some diversions along a career that spans three decades and that still keeps going on strong. The first one came in 1985 with the concept album “Southern Accents”, and his first stint as a Traveling Wilbury showcased a very different side of him (the second album by the Wilburies found Petty back on more familiar territory). But these (and his solo albums like Wildflowers) can be deemed as mini-vacations after which he came energized like never before.
Born in Gainesville (Florida) in 1950, Petty’s interest in rock & roll music was instilled by two of the main icons of a whole generation, The Beatles and Elvis Presley (whom he was to met in person). After playing with a band called Mudcrutch that was to issue only a single back in the ‘70s (the band would reunite in 2008 to do a proper record), Petty launched a solo career with the assistance of two of his Mudcrutch bandmates, Mike Campbell (lead guitar) and Benmont Tench (keyboards). They were to be joined immediately by Ron Blair (bass) and Stan Lynch (drums), and that was the birth of Petty’s legendary backing unit, The Heartbreakers. Both Campbell and Tench are with Petty to this day, and Campbell in particular has had a big input on Mr. Integrity’s music both in terms of compositions (they often share writing credits) and production-wise.
Mr. Integrity. That is one of Tom Petty’s most recurrent nicknames, specially among punters. He has been known to stand against music industry abuses, and to side with fans time after time regarding decisions that would affect them like the marking up of albums. Tom’s first direct attack came with the title of his third record, “Damn The Torpedoes” (1979). It was Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ fist platinum album after the previous one (“You’re Gonna Get It”, 1978) had cracked the Top 40. It included the radio hits “Refugee”, “Don’t Do Me Like That” and “Here Comes My Girl”. Continue reading →